Health Supplements May Be Hazardous To Your Health

Posted Mon, 09/13/2010 - 2:32pm by Camilla Cheung

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Not everything from the health-food store turns out to be healthy. A recent report by Consumer Reports reveals the dangerous lack of regulation for health supplements, and highlights several supplements still on store shelves that may harm or even kill you.

For the health-conscious among us, a trip to the health-food store often leaves us toting a bag full of dietary supplements intended to boost our health and treat various conditions. What you may not have realized is that the Federal Drug Administration's oversight of the supplement industry is painfully inadequate, as has been demonstrated by the many adverse health effects that supplement-takers have experienced over the years.

Inadequate Regulation of Supplements

There are several reasons why the supplements you see on shelves may not be all they seem to be:

  • The FDA has little authority over the manufacture of herbs, vitamins, and other dietary supplements. Over the years, supplements have been contaminated with prescription drugs, steroids, pesticides, and heavy metals, and sold to consumers who then have to live with the health effects of such contaminants. Deaths, chronic illnesses, organ failure, and other adverse effects have occurred due to such contaminants.
     
  • Improper labeling may not reveal the true ingredients of the supplement. Supplements designed to improve athletic performance, for example, may turn out to have hidden steroids.
     
  • There may be inadequate science to back up the supplement's claims. Some supplements on store shelves contain ingredients that claim to provide benefits that, in actuality, have not been scientifically tested.
     
  • Some supplements on store shelves are associated with acute health risks, but do not have warning labels.

Consumer Reports considers the following 12 supplements to be too risky to use, due to serious side effects: aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe.

These supplements have been associated with side effects such as (but not limited to): low or high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, liver damage, cancer, kidney damage, poisoning, skin discoloration and nerve damage. (Please see the Consumer Reports article for more detailed information). In spite of these serious side effects, these 12 supplements continue to be commonly sold, often without warning labels.

What Supplements to Buy

Not all supplements are dangerous. Many have been shown to most likely be safe and to provide various health benefits. These include: calcium, lactase, fish oil, cranberry, vitamin D, many multivitamins, and more. When considering taking supplements, always consult a doctor first in case of any known health risks.

In addition, follow the following tips from Consumer Reports when buying supplements:

  • Avoid supplements that claim to promote weight loss, muscle-building, or sexual enhancement. Even if they claim to be all-natural, some of the supplements may contain prescription drugs and/or steroids.
     
  • Look for supplements that have been voluntarily verified by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
     
  • Beware of supplements that claim to "cure" a health problem. Consult your doctor instead.
     
  • Research all supplements before you buy them, especially looking for FDA advisories. (Check the FDA Dietary Supplements website.)
     
  • Consult your doctor immediately if you notice any unexpected side effects.

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